T Bone Burnett
The True False Identity
The Music Box's #3 album of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2006, Volume 13, #5
Written by John Metzger
T Bone Burnett’s recording career has been filled with fits and starts, and outside of his songs having been recorded by a diverse array of artists — k.d. lang, Sixpence None the Richer, and Warren Zevon among them — he never achieved much in the way of commercial success. Consequently, his side treks by necessity were plentiful: He served in the backing bands of Delaney & Bonnie and Bob Dylan, and he produced albums for Los Lobos (How Will the Wolf Survive?), Counting Crows (August and Everything After), and Elvis Costello (King of America; Spike). More recently, he put together the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Are Thou?, contributed music to Cold Mountain, and composed the score to Walk the Line. Meanwhile, his aspirations as a solo artist slowly slipped into neutral.
All of this changes, however, with the impending release of The True False Identity. Not only is the 12-track collection Burnett’s first album in 14 years, but it also is his finest endeavor to date. Lyrically, his solo outings have had a tendency to dwell upon issues of morality while also taking a rather cynical view of the socio-political cultures in which they were birthed. In that sense, The True False Identity, the title of which pits conventional wisdom against reality, is no different from its predecessors. In fact, it essentially serves as a long overdue but proper sequel to his 1992 endeavor The Criminal under My Own Hat. Pulling no punches, Burnett venomously lambastes President Bush and the Religious Right for their failed policies and for bending their spiritual beliefs to suit their personal agendas, and he shows the utmost contempt for both the media machine that assists with whitewashing the facts and those who succumb to the mind-numbing madness. So strongly worded are his tragically comedic lyrics, which frequently bear Zevon-esque undertones, and so polarized is the world in general that a favorable opinion of the effort undeniably is predicated upon one’s political point of view.
Nevertheless, those disagreeing with Burnett’s perspective ought not to dismiss The True False Identity so readily because, much like Bruce Cockburn’s You’ve Never Seen Everything, the album is a musical triumph. All of the blues, R&B, and Tex-Mex sounds to which Burnett listened while growing up in Fort Worth, Texas continue to percolate through his work, and after refining his experiment-minded production technique on recent outings by Autolux (Future Perfect) and his wife Sam Phillips (A Boot and a Shoe), he playfully bastes his new material in the sort of atmospheric textures that would make Tom Waits proud. On Seven Times Hotter than Fire, he stuffs a melody plucked from Carl Perkins’ Matchbox inside a heavy, stomping groove, while a fusion of the national anthem with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put a Spell on You casts an eerily intoxicating darkness upon Fear Country’s indictment of the Patriot Act. Elsewhere, he is a little less obvious about his appropriations, though he remains cleverly mischievous in how he accentuates his lyrics. He utilizes a Haitian, rhythmic chug to create Zombieland’s hypnotic allure, for example, and he surrounds Blinded by the Darkness’ gospel-hued impeachment of the Legislative and Judicial branches of government with a snarling clatter of misfiring industrial machinery. Undoubtedly, Burnett will obtain a wealth of attention for The True False Identity simply because of the viewpoints that he has expressed, but in truth, the album stands on its own merit as a bold statement from an artist who has been silent for far too long. ½
The True False Identity is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box